Day: 15 April 2021

The Case For Lockdown Collapsed When Sweden’s Epidemic Began to Retreat

Back in March of 2020, there was a reasonable case for lockdown. A new, highly contagious virus was spreading through the population, and while the death rate for young people was low, the death rate for elderly people was quite high. Early data pointed to an IFR of about 1%. We were told that – in the absence of drastic measures – the virus would continue to spread until about two-thirds of the population had been infected. A simple back-of-the envelope calculation suggested that, if we did not take drastic measures, the death toll would be enormous.

The UK’s population is 66.7 million. Two-thirds of that is about 44.5 million. Applying a 1% IFR yields 445,000 deaths. And that was if the NHS didn’t become overwhelmed. If it did become overwhelmed, we were told, the IFR might rise to 2 or even 3%. Hence we were looking at a worst-case scenario of around 1.3 million deaths. (Note: this is about ten times the official death toll, which is itself a slight overestimate.)

Although lockdowns would come with massive costs, I reasoned, it was worth having one to prevent hundreds of thousands – or even a million – people dying. Hence I supported the first lockdown. Though it may have been a reasonable thing to do given the information available at the time, I now believe that locking down was the wrong decision.

There are many elements in the case against lockdowns, as I have outlined in an article on this website. But – outside a few specific countries like Australia and New Zealand – the case for lockdowns basically collapsed in May of 2020, when Sweden’s epidemic began to retreat.

Sweden, of course, was the only major Western country that didn’t lock down in 2020. And the argument for lockdowns made a clear prediction concerning what would happen there: since the country hadn’t taken drastic measures, it would see substantially more deaths (relative to its population) than the countries that had locked down. Using a model “based on work by” Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College, researchers at Uppsala University predicted there would be 96,000 deaths by July 1st.

Fortunately, that isn’t what happened. The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths by July 1st was only 5,370. And up to week 51, the country saw age-adjusted excess mortality of just 1.7% – below the UK and below the European average.

Now of course, Sweden isn’t identical to the UK. It’s more trusting, less densely populated, and has fewer multi-generational households. However, it isn’t dramatically different from the UK in these respects. So even if one might have expected fewer deaths in Sweden than in the UK, given the same policies, the fact that Sweden didn’t lock down should have massively increased its death toll. But it didn’t.

One reply to the argument I’ve just made is that Sweden did much worse than its neighbours. This reply has been extensively addressed by other commentators, and in any case the point remains that Sweden did not do catastrophically. Both its first and second epidemics retreated long before the herd immunity threshold was reached, and far less than 1% of the population has died.

The evidence from Sweden does not imply that the correct approach to COVID-19 was “do nothing”. As I’ve argued previously, a focused protection strategy like the one recommended in the Great Barrington Declaration would have been much less costly, and might have saved more lives, than the Government’s actual policy of intermittent lockdowns.

Where Do London’s Mayoral Candidates Stand on Lockdown?

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has emailed all the anti-lockdown candidates in the London mayoral election with a questionnaire, trying to work out just how “anti” they are. They all come out pretty well, although some are more sound than others. Here, for instance, are the answers of Steve Kelleher, the SDP candidate.

Should London be opening quicker than the current roadmap?
Yes. On the data there is no reason why we can’t open the economy and society in general immediately. This country has lent immense trust to the Government during this pandemic. That trust is beginning to fray.

What changes would you like to see immediately?
London’s economic and social institutions should be reopened. The vaccine programme has successfully protected the overwhelming number of vulnerable citizens. If the Government genuinely backs the vaccine it should re-open society and the economy.

What do you think have been the biggest mistakes of the lockdown?
A total failure by the Government to properly assess the social and economic costs of the suppression measures. From the start the Government has failed to acknowledge the cost-benefit trade-offs associated with its lockdown measures. Like Tony Blair and Iraq – this Government will never acknowledge its staggering mistake.

Do you support vaccine passports for international travel?
The SDP is not keen on vaccine passports in principle. However, I believe the market will decide. Vaccine passports will emerge for international travel irrespective of UK public policy because airlines, some nation states and other organisations will mandate it. You can’t gain entry to Ghana without a yellow fever certificate.

Do you support vaccine passports for domestic use?
In general, a strong no. The idea of having to produce a vaccine certificate to obtain goods and services or to enter public facilities is totally wrong, in principle, in a free society.

When do you think Londoners should return to the office?
As soon as possible. Let’s get London buzzing again.

When should international travel be restored?
The Government should be very careful in permitting unlimited travel to known pandemic hotspots this summer. Many states in continental Europe are suffering steepening viral curves and while that is the case the UK should act cautiously. It is far better to prioritise and re-open the domestic UK economy than to prioritise international travel.

Read the responses from Lawrence Fox (Reclaim), Dr Peter Gammons (UKIP), Piers Corbyn (Let London Live), Brian Rose (London Real Party) and David Kurten (Heritage) here.

Worth reading in full.

Most Care Home Vaccine Rates below Government Guidance

The Government has launched a consultation into making Covid vaccinations mandatory for care home staff working with elderly residents, as NHS England data has revealed that vaccine rates among staff at older adult care homes are below SAGE’s recommended level in more than half of England’s local authorities. Sky News has the story.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) today announced the five-week consultation on making a jab a “condition of deployment”.

Staff, care providers, residents and their families, and other stakeholders are being asked to take part, with officials hoping to find out potential impacts on staffing and safety.

The DHSC is also looking to see how the scheme could be implemented and who could be exempt.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: “Our consultation is very focused on the condition of deployment.” …

Some providers have already made a coronavirus vaccine a requirement.

Following the report, a decision is expected to be made this summer.

SAGE has said that 80% of carers and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated for a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of the virus.

Nearly half of care homes for older people in England have not hit this target, according to the Government.

The latest numbers show that 78.9% of care staff for elderly people have had a jab in England.

The Telegraph has more on vaccination rates among care home staff in England.

Figures published by NHS England… show that 86 out of 149 local authorities have not reached an 80% immunisation threshold for employees, and in 22 areas less than 70% of staff have had a first jab.

Lambeth in south London had the lowest uptake at 50.1%. The figures show the proportion of employees in older adult care homes who have been vaccinated has risen just 10 percentage points in two months.

More than 96,000 eligible staff have not received a vaccine, the figures suggest.

Last month, leaked Cabinet plans revealed that both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary had requested a change in the law to make Covid vaccination mandatory for care home staff. The leaked document read:

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State [Mr Hancock] have discussed on several occasions the progress that is being made to vaccinate social care workers against Covid and have agreed – in order to reach a position of much greater safety for care recipients – to put in place legislation to require vaccinations among the workforce.

The document noted that similar requirements were also being considered for healthcare workers, such as those who work on hospital wards.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

AstraZeneca No Worse Than Other Vaccines for Blood Clots, Study Finds

A new pre-print from a team at the University of Oxford has found that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being restricted or banned around the world over links to blood clots, does not appear to cause the rare side effect at a much greater rate than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. However, on the basis of current reporting rates, the same complications are many times more likely to be caused by the disease itself, they say. The Independent has the story.

The risk of developing a rare brain clot from COVID-19 is about eight times greater than from the AstraZenecaOxford vaccine, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, who are not linked to the vaccine, also found that people infected with coronavirus are “manyfold times” more likely than normal to develop the rare clotting disorder, known as cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT), where blood clots in the veins that run from the brain.

“There’s no doubt that Covid is a much greater risk of this [condition] than any of the vaccines,” said Professor Paul Harrison, a co-author of the study.

The research, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, drew comparisons between more than 500,000 COVID-19 patients in the US and 34 million people in Europe who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as the background level of CVT in the general population.

For COVID-19, the incidence rate of CVT stands at 39 cases per one million people, the study showed. But for a million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab, there will be just five cases of CVT over a two-week period. …

The study also suggested that four cases of CVT are likely to occur in one million people vaccinated with either the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech jab. However, the scientists warned that the data on this is too thin to establish any firm conclusions.

The researchers acknowledge a number of limitations in their research.

The scientists warned that all comparisons must be interpreted cautiously since data are still accruing and drawn from different sources. They added that their research was unable to determine the relative risk of developing CVT after vaccination due to uncertainty around the baseline rate for this condition.

Nor did the study address the incidence rate of thrombocytopenia in COVID-19 patients and people who had been vaccinated. This condition, where a patient presents abnormally low levels of platelets, has been detected alongside CVT in the cases of concern reported to date. …

The Oxford researchers drew their COVID-19 patient data from a US-based electronic health records network which had recently been used by the team to show the neurological and psychiatric consequences of coronavirus.

This database, which is made up of a total of 81 million US patients, provided clear detail on CVT cases that had been detected among people infected with coronavirus, the experts said – though they acknowledged there may be under-reporting of the condition in medical records.

As for the incidence rate of CVT among people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab, this was taken from the European Medicines Agency’s database, which covered more than 34 million individuals at the time of publication.

A further observation is that the COVID-19 patients in the study are drawn from a “federated electronic health records network recording anonymised data from healthcare organisations, primarily in the USA”. This suggests they are hospital patients, or at least those who have sought medical assistance, and so are not representative of all Covid infections but only the more serious. This contrasts to the vaccinated group, which is the healthy population as a whole, albeit with more vulnerable groups often vaccinated first. This may skew the comparison considerably, making blood clots among those infected with Covid appear much more common than they are.

How will regulators respond, having restricted one vaccine over this issue (and increasingly the Johnson & Johnson one as well), will they not have to be consistent? Will they remove the restrictions from AZ and J&J, or apply them equally to the other two, or somehow justify the discrepancy? Will be interesting to watch this play out.

Let’s Show the Red Card to Vaccine Passports for Football Fans

In today’s Spectator, I’ve set out the case against making sports fans produce a ‘Covid Status Certificates’ as a condition of allowing them into stadiums after May 17th. I’m going to set out the case in full for Lockdown Sceptics tomorrow, but in the meantime here’s an extract from the Spectator article:

The first and most obvious objection is that it’s a breach of my liberty. It’s an inversion of the Common Law principle that everything should be permitted unless the law specifically prohibits it. Under this scheme, I am only allowed to do something if permitted to do so by law, which is the principle underlying the Napoleonic Code. As a freeborn Englishman, I prefer the Common Law tradition, which was one of my reasons for supporting Brexit.

It’s also discriminatory. I don’t just mean it will discriminate against those who haven’t been vaccinated or can’t otherwise demonstrate they are ‘safe’, but against those groups more likely to be suspicious of vaccines and who cannot afford alternative forms of certification. We know that vaccine hesitancy is higher among the UK’s black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations. Do we really want to see fewer of these spectators at sporting events? True, there are alternative ways of demonstrating you’re not an infection risk, such as getting a PCR test, but if you don’t want to jump through a lot of hoops they cost a minimum of £120. And an unvaccinated sports fan would have to get it redone before every fixture. For those who’ve had COVID-19, there’s the option of getting an antibody test, but you can’t get those on the NHS unless you work in primary care, social care or education.

In short, if the Government makes entry to sporting venues contingent on having a vaccine passport, it will be discriminating against minorities and the less well-off.

You can read the whole article on the Spectator‘s website.

Stop Press: The Guardian had a story on its front page today saying the Equalities and Human Rights Commission thinks a general certification scheme could fall foul of anti-discrimination law because it would restrict access to essential services for those groups less likely to get vaccinated – including migrants, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and those on low incomes.

Vaccines the Cause of Britain’s Drop In Covid Cases, Not Lockdown, Says KCL Epidemiologist

A King’s College London epidemiologist has said that Britain’s “exemplar vaccine programme” – which has seen almost 40 million first and second doses administered – is behind the drop in Covid cases since January. Professor Tim Spector’s view contrasts with that of the Prime Minister who believes lockdown – not the vaccine – has delivered “this improvement in the pandemic“. The Mail has the story.

Vaccines are behind Britain’s sharp drop in coronavirus cases since January, top experts claimed today – despite Boris Johnson insisting lockdown was the reason for the fall.  

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the UK’s largest Covid symptom tracking study, said the epidemic had “mainly” been squashed by the “exemplar vaccine programme”.

With more than 60% of the population jabbed with at least one dose and up to 10% protected due to prior infection, Professor Spector added Britain was “starting to see herd immunity take effect”.

His comments come after data from his symptom-tracking app showed a 17% drop in daily cases last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic infections a day across the country – down from 60,000 at the peak in January.

Separate Test and Trace figures showed new cases in England had dipped by 34% last week, with 19,196 positive tests recorded in the seven days to April 7th – compared to 29,178 at the end of March. 

Professor Spector said: “As the UK slowly exits lockdown, I’m encouraged to see Covid cases continue to fall with our rates among the lowest in Europe. 

“In fact, the UK closely mirrors cases in Israel with its exemplar vaccine programme. Based on our data and countries like Israel, I believe the fall in cases since January is mainly thanks to the vaccination programme and less about the strict lockdown the UK has been under since late December. 

“With up to 60% of the population vaccinated and around five to 10% with natural immunity due to infection, we’re starting to see herd immunity take effect. This should prevent future large-scale outbreaks.”

Professor Spector warned it was inevitable cases would pick up again as restrictions are eased over the coming months. But he said any outbreaks would be “smaller” and “manageable” and among groups yet to be vaccinated.

The Prime Minister has been underplaying the impact of the vaccine for some weeks. As well as pinning the fall in Covid cases on lockdown rather than on the vaccine rollout, he recently said that vaccinated people must not meet indoors because jabs “are not giving 100% protection” – this despite the fact that the risk of catching a symptomatic Covid infection for two people who have been vaccinated is about one in 400,000. His confidence in lockdowns has, however, stood firm, despite an increasing number of studies showing they’re ineffective.

The report by the Mail is worth reading in full.

Government Pays Firm £90 Million to Check If Passengers Are In Quarantine After Arriving In UK

The Government has hired a private firm to carry out 10,000 home visits every day to check if overseas arrivals are complying with mandatory quarantine rules. Those arriving in the UK must self-isolate for 10 days. Arrivals from countries on the Government’s “red list” must isolate at a Government-approved hotel – and pay £1,750 for the privilege. Mitie has been awarded a contract by the Home Office allowing it to spend up to £90 million on home visits. The Mail has the story.

Priti Patel has stepped up the Government’s crackdown on mandatory quarantine for overseas arrivals by hiring a firm to do up to 10,000 house checks per day.

Mitie has been tasked by the Home Office to catch flouters failing to undergo their required period of isolation.  

Their extra manpower will dramatically increase the capacity for daily home visits, which at present number about 1,000 and are carried out by police. …

Under tight border rules to insulate from worrying variants and infection spikes in Europe, all overseas arrivals must go into self-isolation for 10 days, which can be shortened by testing negative.

For people arriving from countries on the Department for Transport’s red list, this self-isolation must be done in Government-approved hotels. Fines start at £1,000 and jump to £10,000 for repeated rule-breaking. 

Mitie enforcers will conduct checks on travellers who are required to self-isolate at home, but will not do hotel visits.

A Government source said: “The number of operatives will vary depending on the number of visits needed, and the locations of the visits.

“If appropriate, Mitie staff may visit certain travellers more than once, if they are suspected of breaching their requirement to self-isolate.”

Mitie has been handed a number of other Covid-related contracts over the past year and currently supplies testing sites with testing staff, security and cleaners.

Worth reading in full.

People in England Waiting to Start Hospital Treatment Hits Record High

The number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment continues to rise, with 4.7 million people stuck on a waiting list by the end of February in England. This is the highest number since 2007, highlighting the impact of a year in which the NHS focused on Covid patients at the expense of many others. BBC News has the story.

Around 4.7 million people were waiting for routine operations and procedures in England in February – the most since 2007, NHS England figures show.

Nearly 388,000 people were waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery compared with just 1,600 before the pandemic began.

During January and February, the pressure on hospitals caused by Covid was particularly acute.

NHS England said two million operations took place despite the winter peak.

However surgeons said hospitals were still under huge pressure due to the second wave of Covid, which had led to “a year of uncertainty, pain and isolation” for patients waiting for planned treatment.

Tim Mitchell, Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has asked how much longer those whose treatments have been delayed can be expected to wait.

Although the most urgent operations for cancer and life-threatening conditions went ahead, hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for routine surgery such as hip and knee operations, cochlear implants and vascular operations had their treatment cancelled or postponed.

People have been patient as they’ve seen the battering the pandemic has given the NHS, but how much longer can they be expected to wait?

This news again highlights the importance of Professor Karol Sikora’s oft-repeated, yet consistently ignored proposal for a Government press conference to be held which is entirely dedicated to non-Covid related illnesses.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Seven Peer-Reviewed Studies That Agree: Lockdowns Do Not Suppress the Coronavirus

Many people still struggle to accept the idea that lockdowns don’t have any appreciable impact on Covid cases and deaths. After all, it’s obvious, isn’t it, that keeping people apart will stop the virus spreading?

Tom Harwood, formerly of Guido Fawkes now of GB News, tweeted a typically incredulous response to the idea: “Cannot understand how some can claim ‘lockdowns don’t work’ with a straight face. As if stopping people from mixing wouldn’t hit transmission? Sure argue the cost is too high, imposition on liberty too extreme, just don’t invent a fairytale denying the basics of germ theory.”

Even some die-hard lockdown sceptics will say that lockdowns work, in the sense of suppressing transmission for a time, but they just delay the inevitable so are pointlessly costly.

The models churned out by university academics and relied on by the Government to set policy all assume lockdown restrictions work, and even claim to quantify how much impact each intervention makes.

But what does the data say? What do the studies show that actually look at the evidence rather than just making a priori assumptions about how things “must surely” be?

There have been at least seven peer-reviewed studies which look at the question of lockdowns from a data point of view, and all of them come to the same basic conclusion: lockdowns do not have a statistically significant relationship with Covid cases or deaths. Here is a list of them with a key quote for ease of reference.

Many of these studies attribute a large part of the drop in infections and deaths to the voluntary measures introduced prior to the legally-enforced restrictions. However, this is typically introduced as an assumption with no robust evidence provided in support of it, and with no consideration of the other possible reasons that infections might have fallen, such as seasonality or growing population immunity. On the rare occasion that rigorous analysis is applied to this question as well, as with Savaris et al in their article in Nature looking at whether people staying at home (measured using mobility data) is associated with Covid deaths, the finding is similarly negative. Voluntary measures make little difference either.

This may seem to defy “the basics of germ theory”, as Mr Harwood put it. But it doesn’t, it just means we need to understand better how the virus is getting round.